Italian set decorator Alessandra Querzola, who is Oscar-nominated for her work on “Blade Runner 2049” in tandem with production designer Dennis Gassner, is adamant about pointing out that the retro sci-fi universe they created was a group effort.
Still, there are details of the dystopian Los Angeles and Las Vegas created on soundstages in Budapest’s Origo film studios that she feels particularly proud of.
As set decorator, she handled the technology aspect of the film’s appearance, “right from the bone scanner that you see at the start,” says Querzola. She was also responsible for “all the video monitors, all the [futuristic] devices” — though of course there were art directors behind the designs.
The look of these devices was arrived at after poring through visuals and having discussions with director Denis Villeneuve. “He always has a clear idea of what he wants,” she notes. Still, some aspects took as long as two months to make. “Denis gave us some initial indications, then Dennis as production designer established the language, the vision [of the film], also in accordance with [cinematographer] Roger Deakins, who has been fantastic to work with.”
Querzola had collaborated with Gassner (an Oscar winner in 1992 with set decorator Nancy Haigh for “Bugsy”) on Bond pics “Quantum of Solace” and “Skyfall.” On the “Blade Runner” sequel, the two would look at her constantly updated mood boards. “And then we would remove everything that was superfluous or not pertinent,” she says. “[It was] a full immersion.” Another part of the prep work was checking online to make sure what she was suggesting was something she could indeed provide.
The bulk of the materials ordered by Querzola came from Holland, though some of the lamps came from Italy, and the gigantic couches in the Vegas penthouse where Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) hides out had to be flown over from the U.S. because no European couch could be compatible with that ambience.
In terms of creating ambience, Querzola considers the set-piece in which Officer K (played by Ryan Gosling) goes to the Dickensian orphanage/sweatshop run by hooded taskmaster Mr. Cotton (Lennie James) among the most challenging. That whole scene, in which hundreds of children are recycling computer parts and scraps of keyboards, took three months of preparation, starting with the work tables, each of which was made on-site.
Among the biggest challenges for Querzola was providing lamps and lights, which was the crucial aspect of her work with Deakins — who is also Oscar-nominated for “Blade Runner 2049.” Dedication and pragmatism were required.
Despite the myriad practical constraints that come with her job, Querzola, an alumnus of the Fine Arts Academy in Venice, unquestionably sees herself as an artist.
“Set decorating is like painting,” she says. “You do it with confidence because you know you are on the same wavelength [with the director, the production designer and the cinematographer] and because you’ve done your prep work. That’s my moment. Nobody can dampen my enthusiasm when I’m decorating a set.”